At a smaller Division I school like Marist College, it’s not difficult to put a name to the face of the many athletes competing for the school. After walking around campus for four years with their bright red backpacks and constant Marist Athletics apparel, these athletes have established themselves as just that — athletes. As they round the corner to graduation, the question remains: who are they outside of their sport?
The following story is a part of Center Field’s 19 for ‘19: Stories of the Senior Class series.
The EMTs started by cutting off his bright red jersey. They couldn’t move his neck for fear that he had damaged anything that would put him in a critical state. They brought him to the hospital where they continued to cut off his shoulder pads, elbow pads, and helmet. They removed his skates last.
He laid unconscious on the cold, hard ice as players from both teams surrounded him, checking his breathing and watching the eyes of No. 16 roll into the back of his head.
At the February 5, 2016 game, a player dressed in bright red with white trim skated down the ice and made a pass that turned into a goal, and once the celebration ended and play went on, he moved up the boards to the offensive zone and placed himself on the blue line. The puck made its way to the line where Conor Flynn was there to stop it from going out of the zone. The puck abruptly stopped as Conor’s stick found its way across the ice, as the two connected, a green and gold Siena College player had made his way across the blue line to check Conor into the boards, adding an elbow to assure the freshman defender would feel the hit. Conor dropped to the ground, his arms laid across his chest.
“They asked me what time it was, I said Tuesday at 5:00, it was Friday at 9:15,” said Conor. He laid on the ice at the Albany County Hockey Facility until an EMT loaded him into an ambulance, where he awoke abruptly as the emergency responder put an IV in his arm. Conor was brought to the Albany Memorial Hospital where he was given a CT Scan. He was then sent back to the rink after his concussion testing to get on the bus with his teammates and head back to Marist after the team had beaten Siena by a score of 8-3.
“It was the second shift and the puck was in the defensive zone during the faceoff,” Conor recalled the play. “I was right in front of the centermen and made a move and threw it off the boards where No. 3 Justin Genga got it and scored. There was just a minute left.”
Conor took the 90-minute ride back to Marist. This was his first collegiate game that both of his parents had missed, and only the third in his life that his father had missed. As the Marist bus pulled into Beck parking lot, so did his concerned parents.
Conor went home for two weeks after his injury after being told by a hospital that he had only a concussion. He spent those two weeks home relaxing and recovering before returning to Marist, as his parents didn’t want him to miss too much school.
“Everything was moving so fast, I couldn’t keep up at all.” Conor remembered going back to school for the first time after his concussion. “I remember talking about something and chimed in, that’s when my friends told me I didn’t look so good.”
For two weeks Conor had been living his normal life, while taking it slow to avoid any further brain injury. He had no idea that his brain was slowly bleeding. Conor became confused while talking with his friends, and quickly called his parents who told him to stick it out for the night.
At 5 a.m. the Flynn’s made the drive to Marist, once again realizing that their son had been misdiagnosed.
Conor was home for two weeks before a neurologist found what could have killed him: a brain bleed. For the next eight weeks, Conor stayed home on Long Island to rest. He was put through therapy and was not allowed to drive, for fear that he would have a seizure.
Conor was diagnosed with a brain bleed, or hemorrhage, two weeks after his initial concussion diagnosis. A brain bleed can reduce oxygen delivery to the brain, create extra pressure in the brain and kill brain cells, making it crucial to find and treat as quickly as possible. Many of the symptoms are similar to those of a concussion including: sudden or severe headache, nausea or vomiting, changes in vision, changes in balance, difficulty speaking or understanding speech, difficulty using fine motor skills, as well as loss of consciousness. A brain bleed can be found on a CT scan, as well as several other tests which could have easily been performed when Conor was hospitalized.
“I couldn’t look at my phone or watch TV, any little sight of light gave me the worst headache ever,” Conor said. “It felt like a knife was stabbing me in the head at all times.”
Brain bleeds often require treatments such as surgery, medication, draining the fluid around the brain, and often a catheter will be inserted to the affected area. Conor was fortunate enough to only need the least invasive form of treatment: physical, occupational and speech therapy. “I had to go to a therapist,” recalled Conor, “with balance and speech testing three days a week to help with my memory and eyesight.” Conor was able to take back his life, and control his symptoms with the help of a therapist and a supportive background. The college freshman spent the next eight weeks post-injury focusing on rehabilitation.
In the fall of 2016, he went back to the sport he had known so well, trying out once more for the Marist Club Hockey Team. The team’s tryouts were Conor’s first time back on the ice since his incident, making the day nerve wracking for the then-sophomore in college, but ultimately he made the cut.
Conor was forced to change his jersey number for the new season, as No. 16 had previously been cut off of him. Conor became No. 13, the number that his old captain wore the previous season. With this, he was able to start fresh, knowing that he had survived a misdiagnosis and a head injury meant to set back the athlete.
The red and white covered player skated down the ice, his family watching him on the edge of their seats, as the giant white “C” for Captain stands out on his jersey. His teammates felt his anxiety from the moment he stepped on the bus. No. 13, Conor Flynn would be playing at the rink that caused him such peril three years prior.
Every year, the Red Foxes travel to this rink to face Siena, and every year Conor faces the same dismal mindset going into the game, knowing that this was the team that had damaged him in his first year of college hockey. On November 2, 2018 the Marist Men’s Club Hockey Team traveled to the Albany County Hockey Facility where they faced the green and gold Siena College club hockey team once more. The player who had sent Conor to the hospital had graduated from Siena following Conor Flynn’s injury, he would never be able to face him on the ice.
Conor’s father stood next to the glass in order to be as close to his son as possible. His mother and sister sat atop the bleachers, anticipating the game’s end and hoping that Conor would come out of the game in one piece, and not on a stretcher as he previously had been. Conor stepped on the ice and took it all in, as this would be his final game in this rink. He skated up and down the ice, agitated as the Foxes failed to keep the puck in their zone long enough to make a move. The Red Foxes fell to the Saints, yet Conor felt a wave of relief to leave this rink for the final time.
Conor skated in his final collegiate hockey game on February 23, 2019. With 127 penalty minutes in his four years and 49 points, Conor has been an essential team member to the Red Foxes, stepping up as captain and leading his team as one of the best defenders that the team has seen. Conor did not let his brain injury affect his life in the long run, yet he will always have this memory in the back of his head, remembering the fateful day at Siena College.
Edited by the Center Field Editorial Team.
Header image by Kristin Flanigan.